Medienpräsentatoren: Piranha und Laut.de
„…odd to the bone
strangely heartwarming in a heartbreaking way.“
Now the stars are sick of shining/and the soil has turned to dust/and it doesn’t take a trusting man/to sing a song of trust.
Do You Trust Me?
To say that Blanche’s Dan Miller is ambivalent on the subjects of trust, faith and hope would be an understatement. The shock-haired singer/songwriter/guitarist is not the type of person who hears such platitudes as „the sun will come out tomorrow“ and takes them at face value. Thing is, that gray area between despair and hope, where human connections are fragile things that often behave according to their own fatalistic whims, is where we find the music of Blanche looking for hope amidst strewn half-remembered fragments of a happy life that always seems just two steps ahead.
As one NPR commentator noted, Just as ‚jazz‘ no longer aptly describes all of its offshoots, the term ‚country‘ is no longer a sufficient label for bands such as Blanche who make atmosphere as well as music.“
But its the point of entry that makes the most sense for the emotional landscape Blanche paints with their haunted words and the oddly-swinging, just-off-kilter-enough music to be found on their debut release, If We Cant Trust the Doctors
The title is about faith, according to Miller, about the faith that you eventually must stumble down to meet. When Dan and his wife, Tracee, met tragedy and ailment on their doorsteps numerous times over the last two years the years in which they recorded this full-length they had to plumb the depths of trust, hope, faith and the other rock bottom human emotions that get you from sunrise to sunrise.
I was in a hospital waiting room and I just started thinking, Well, the doctors know what theyre doing, right? But once you start to doubt that, you ask yourself, What can you trust? What can you hold on to? Your prayers dont always get answered, and you realize that everything and everyone you thought you could trust and depend on is vulnerable.
Folks you think Id be happy and delighted/ cause all my dreams are finally coming true/ but did I mention all my dreams are nightmares/and in my head I feel a storm about to brew
So Long Cruel World
Dan cut his musical teeth with country-punk band Goober & the Peas, releasing two albums, before the band broke up. Next was the short-lived Two Star Tabernacle, (in which Dan shared front man and guitar duties with Jack White), with Tracee playing bass and Detroit Cobra Damian Lang drumming. The bands only release was a 7-inch they did with legendary R&B singer Andre Williams, recorded at Whites house. Although they never recorded an album, many of the Two Star songs took new shape and ended up on both the White Stripes White Blood Cells and Blanches If We Cant Trust the Doctors
Blanche was, literally, born in Dan and Tracee Miller’s living room. Our idea was to start a band with friends who shared our love for old country and blues music, and rock music that had that same feeling (i.e. Bad Seeds‘ Kicking Against the Pricks). We wanted to almost embrace everyones inexperience on their instruments, said Dan. Once we started working on the songs, the lack of polish seemed to kind of enhance the emotion of the songs.
Tracee, still fairly new to the bass guitar, was nudged into some singing duty as well, while Dan was still trying to figure out how to play guitar and sing at the same time without getting dizzy. Patch Boyle had never played an instrument before hurriedly grabbing his banjo learners permit, and Lisa Jannon, also a musical novice, jumped into drumming after an old snare, drumstick and maraca were grabbed from the basement. The man known simply as Feeny, although experienced on several other instruments, grabbed the reigns of the pedal steel and taught himself how to play. (His eerie/teary style would land him the pedal steel job on the Jack White-produced Loretta Lynn album Van Lear Rose a few years later.) It felt like an odd family reunion, said Dan.
Oh, what a long way Blanche has come. Tracee says that the band chose to practice on stage. And to judge by their hypnotizing live performances, the process of wood-shedding new material in front of paying customers has paid off. Theyve recently completed two critically-acclaimed tours of the UK one with the Arizona-via-Chicago kindred spirits, the Handsome Family and another with longtime Detroit pals and collaborators, the White Stripes.
Blanche live is like a weathered, sepia-toned tintype family portrait come to life and injected with Technicolor. If the Carter Family made an appearance on the Lawrence Welk show when country music iconoclast Lee Hazlewood and Nick Cave were co-hosting, it would look and feel a lot like Blanche does. But even that reduces the alchemy of these five strange people to an equation. Blanche is more than the sum of their parts. With Dan, frenetic yet stern, the preacher gone slightly astray from the flock leading the congregation and Tracee, a Stepford wife by way of Appalachian sweetheart at his side, you cant take your eyes away.
No one expects the Millers, but theyre undoubtedly striking. But what fills out the portrait is the long-gone family reunion of characters that are the rest of Blanche. Patch Boyle cradles his banjo and autoharp like a lost sweetheart or a dear, departed child and rocks it to life. Feeny teases only-he-knows-what from his pedal steel, bound to his seat but set fit to jump up and testify at a moments inspiration. Behind it all, Lisa Jannon manages to alternately tap and then pound out rhythms that let it all hang miraculously together.
It has been said that they look like theyre out on Saturday night with Sunday morning never too far off, and thats about apt. They are the portrait of Americana Gothic, Flannery OConnor by way of a chill Detroit November. And for all the sorrow that provided a foundation for the bands songs, Blanches music is not without joy. But the joy seems to come in the exorcism of dark secrets.
When it came time to get this sound on record, the band divided time among three different Detroit studios. Warn Defever (His Name Is Alive, Ida, Tarnation) had just christened his new studio, Brown Rice, and Blanche was the perfect lab rat for Defevers cryptic instincts. Next, the band headed for steel player Feenys recording laboratory, The Tempermill (P.W. Long, Demolition Doll Rods) for further recording. Lastly, the band knocked on the door of resident Detroit pop genius Brendan Benson. They holed up for a couple days of live recording at Bensons Grand Studio, dramatically reworking a song Miller wrote and played in Two-Star Tabernacle, Whos to Say?, which would become the bands first release, a 7-inch single.
The song that youll hear on If We Cant Trust the Doctors takes the song down tempo and lets Millers stark vocal of a lovelorn man gone lost drip with longing and pathos. And it afforded Blanche the opportunity for an on-record family reunion of sorts, with White contributing a guitar solo and accompaniment and Benson singing backup harmony.
It is, as one pundit put it, A haunting mess of beauty. And it brings the band full circle as it prepares to share the snapshots of what Miller has found when hes been looking in the far corners of his attic.